Friday, February 12, 2021

Quick Sips 02/12/2021

Hi there! Well, I’m still catching myself up on January, as my reading these days isn’t quite as strict and structured as it used to be. Which, I mean, suits me quite well. It means I can also have a bit of a diversion to cover an absolutely phenomenal anthology that came out last year. Seriously, if you haven’t read Silk & Steel, it’s good! Otherwise I’m covering venues that I’ve been reviewing for a while, though I do have my eyes on a few just-out and upcoming issues of venues that I haven’t read before to keep life interesting. Probably my favorite part of doing these broader posts is that, well, I can read more broadly, and while I will always miss things and not be able to read everything, that I can read more is fantastic.

But I’m just keeping my nose to the wheel, mostly. I’ve decided to delay the Sippy Awards to March, though, as I’m still desperately trying to read for We’re Here consideration and those deadlines will be coming up very soon. The Sippys are still like my favorite thing, though, so I will definitely keep doing them. Just…it’s been a lot of year-end stuff like participating in the Locus Rec List committee for short fiction categories and the like. And whew, some things are ending, but other things are beginning (my Clarion Class is later this month, eep!). So yeah, just a bit of a delay there.

As on last note before the reviews, you’ll maybe notice that my Scales of Relative Grimness make their debut this week. The below note will now run with all of these posts. Hopefully it’s some added value, but I’ll probably be refining for a while. Consider this a public test of the system.

NOTE: This will be a recurring note that will run with every Quick Sips. First, please note that I don’t necessarily mention every story or poem out in an issue. I am giving myself permission to either DNF stories, or else finish and just not comment on them. Please don’t assume it’s because I disliked the work! There are many reasons I might chose not to comment on a piece, and I reserve the right to do just that. Second, you might notice the notations at the end of the micro reviews and wonder what the [c# t#] is. These are for the Scales of Relative Grimness and a full explanation of them can be found through the tab at the top of the page or through this link. With that said, let’s get to the reviews!

Escape Pod #769 (1 short story total)
  • “Deal” by Eris Young (short story) – A beautiful story of an Earth visited by aliens and the complex lines of help and love. The piece is careful while still showing people with their messy edges and I just really like this one a lot. Aliens, Languages, Phobias, Relationships, Queer MC. CW- Cancer (possible), Deadnaming (implied). [c2 t3]
A strong episode and I just love the idea of the Visitors and the way people don't really know how to be around them, how there's this distance there that's difficult to define or bridge. So good.

Beneath Ceasless Skies #322 (2 short stories total)
  • "The Guadalupe Witch” by Josh Rountree (short story) – A story of a woman who lost a son, a husband who wants her dead, and a young man who doesn’t know what it means to be a witch hunter. Biting and tender and sad, but with some hope and magic. Family, Witches, Rivers, Resurrections. CW- Death of a Child, Abuse, Suicide/Life Trading.
  • “Her Black Coal Heart a Diamond in My Hand” by R.K. Duncan (short story) – A chilling story of an artist who works in the medium of ghosts and experiencing, using the pain and trauma of a young girl to wow the audiences. Careful and heavy, with a sinking, clawing ending. Art Exhibits, Money, Ghosts. CW- Abuse, Death of a Child, Death of a Parent, Mutilation. [c4 t5]
An issue pinned to familial abuse and death, which makes for a rather grim and gutting pair of stories. Still, tucked into them is a story about bargains. About reaching into death and trying to pull back something. In both, the endings are both a bit fitting and very difficult, finding that from some things there is no walking away from. A difficult and horror-tinged issue!

Tor January 2021 (1 more novelette)
  • “Shards” by Ian Rogers (novelette) – A horror staple, a cabin in the woods, gets a new spin as five friends are torn apart by what they find on vacation. Creepy and blood. Vacations, School, Friends, Games, Music. CW- Violence/Murder, Suicide, Gore, Nightmares. [c5 t5]
Oops, missed this one with the others, so catching up. It’s a lot more grizzly than the other stories from Tor in January, pure horror, but for fans probably well worth checking out.

Flash Fiction Online February 2021 (3 short stories total)
  • “The Vanishing Bride” by William Paul Jones (short story) - A mostly cute story about a magic enchantment that has long outlived its usefulness, all centered on a woman just trying to get married. The sorcerer gets off a bit easy, imo, but that does mean there’s less grimness. Spells, Marriage, Breakups. CW- Coercion [c2, t2]
  • “Vixen” by Hannah Whiteoak (short story) - Another strange one and another involving relationships and the wounds they leave, and how people try to move on. This one involves a dating site match, a fox, and a fragility that heartbreak can leave behind. Animals, Dating, Dating Websites, Protection. [c1 t3]
  • “Sunflowers” by Maura Yzmore” (short story) - A lovely and moving story about loss, about breath, about a man, Danilo, and his friend, and the way they part, and what Danilo carries with him into the future, and away from the planet. Beautiful work. Pollution, Employment, Friendship, Queer MC(?). CW- Death of a Friend, Terminal Illness. [c3 t3]
A lovely issue, mostly featuring stories that deal with aftermaths from relationships, and where it leaves the characters going forward, having to try at new relationships, new vulnerabilities. An interesting work and well paired around the idea of relationships for Valentine’s Day without being either sappy or jaded. Great stuff!

Silk and Steel: A Queer Speculative Fiction Anthology ed Janine A. Southard (17 short stories total)
  • “Margo Lai’s Guide to Dueling Unprepared” by Alison Tam (short story) - Absolutely adorable mutual pining here as these friends find out new and different aspects of their relationship, all while dealing with a duel they both start off wanting to get out of. Just super cute and warm and good. Duels, Magic, Family, Kissing, Queer MC. [c1 t2]
  • “Princess, Shieldmaiden, Witch, and Wolf” by Neon Yang (short story) - A tense and moving story of two trans women running toward their dearest hopes, and away from the restrictive and abusive situations they were in. Royalty, Wolves, Witches, Forests, Trans MC, Queer MC. CW- Deadnaming (implied), Misgendering, Abuse (Physical and Emotional). [c4 t4]
  • “Elinor Jones vs. the Ruritanian Multiverse” by Freya Marske (short story) - A woman using the multiverse to swap some time with an alternate version of herself who is a princess about to become queen finds out there’s more to the trip than a vacation, and might just start a revolution while she’s at it. Or find love. Or both. Both is good. Alternate Realities, Royalty, Contracts, Portals, Queer MC. CW- Death of a Friend. [c2 t2]
  • “Plan Z” by Django Wexler (short story) - A rather raucous and invigorating story about two scoundrels and their attempts to make money in a galaxy that seems bent on sending them complications and unpleasant goo. A ton of fun, action, and adventure, with a wicked heart for good measure. Space, Bargains, Queer MC, Gems, Invasions. CW- Gore. [c2 t2]
  • “Little Birds” by Cara Patterson (short story) - A story of war and secret love, where a soldier who flies on gliders into the heat of battle longs for a life she can’t have. Can’t, unless she risks everything, and trusts her friends. A wonderful alt history set in the days of the Ottoman Empire. War, Gliders, Queer MC, Royal Court, Flying. CW- Slavery, War/Battle/Injury. [c3 t3]
  • “Positively Medieval” by Kaitlyn Zivanovich (short story) - Grynid is a literal troll come to America to study law at Georgetown. Her sense of direction is out of whack, though, and so it’s up to a local courier/knight errant to help set her course. Fun and action-heavy, with a draining, sharp world building. Maps, Bikes, Ratings, Queer MC, Trolls. CW- Abuse/Bullying/Insults, Disease (mentioned), Aggressive Capitalism. [c3 t2]
  • “Book and Hammer, Blade and Bone” by Ann LeBlanc (short story) - A dead woman finds herself in the wrong underworld, though in time she comes to see the value of the library she wakes up in, and one particular librarian who finds her. Full of angst and pain and lifting into a hopeful and joyous finish, the piece is wonderfully accomplished! Afterlife, Gods, Libraries, Queer MC. CW- Death/Gore, Colonialism. [c3 t4]
  • “What Finds You in the Deep” by K.A. Doore (short story) - A daring jaunt for a guard who has some intentions for her lover and charge turns dangerous as the best laid plans go a bit astray when magic and animated corpses get involved. A warm and fun adventure! Caves, Animates, Relationships, Proposals, Queer MC. CW- Corpses. [c2 t4]
  • “The Sweet Tooth of Angwar Bec” by Ellen Kushner (short story) - A quick story of a duelist looking back on her debut, and the heat and thrill of it, and the woman and the sweets she enjoyed after the fight. Delightful and hot. Duels, Swords, Baked Goods, Queer MC. [c1 t2]
  • “Danger Noodle” by S.K. Terentiev (short story) - A fun and bouncy story about a pair of paranormal investigators, their anniversary, and a basilisk problem. Irreverent and charming! Insurance, Goats, Basilisks, Investigations, Queer MC, Marriage. [c1 t2]
  • “Chicago Iron” by Chris Wolfgang (short story) - A tense and somewhat gritty Prohibition era story about a bootlegger getting in over her head with a plot involving the fae. Sharp and brash but with a warm finish. Prohibition, Bootlegging, Clubs, Fae, Queer MC. CW- Violence, Police/ACAB. [c3 t3]
  • “In the Salt Crypts of Ghiarelle” by Jennifer Mace (short story) - Following a gutting loss, a small kingdom is set to crown a new king, only a guard and a visiting noble stumble on a dark secret that might cut any idea of celebrating short. It’s a heavy story but with some great world building and wonderful character work. Royalty, Plants, Investigations, Guards, Queer MC. CW- Corpses/Violence. [c2 t3]
  • “The City Unbreachable” by Yoon Ha Lee (short story) - Succession on a generation ship in a tricky business, and here it comes to swords and duels as the ship itself sees fit to field a champion against the shadowed intentions of a would-be ruler. A beautifully written piece that manages a nice dual viewpoint. Generation Ships, Duels, Swords, Queer MCs. [c1 t2]
  • “The Commander and the Mirage Master’s Mate” by Elaine McIonyn (short story) - This story finds a ship’s commander dealing with mirage magic, a lover in professional jeopardy, and an enemy attack that could cost her side an incredibly valuable asset. It’s full of action, chaos, and a nice touch of romance. Ships, Illusions, Teleportation, Battle, Queer MC. CW- Violence/Death/Battle. [c2 t4]
  • “The Epic Fifth Wedding Anniversary of Zaynne the Barbarian and Tikka the Accountant” by Elizabeth Davis (short story) - A roaringly campy story about an adventurer and a quest to retrieve her wife from a dark wizard. Not that anything is quite what it seems in this humorous romp. Marriage, Monsters, Wizards, Accounting, Queer MC. [c1 t1]
  • “The Parnassian Courante” by Claire Bartlett (short story) - Astrid is a woman of no means, a scholarship student, in love with a princess, and more dangerous yet, loved in turn. When the king decides on a tournament to decide his daughter’s hand in marriage, Astrid has to get creative to win the day, and the woman. Duels, Tournaments, Royalty, Studies, Language, Dances, Queer MC. [c1 t2]
  • “The Scholar of the Bamboo Flute” by Aliette de Bodard (short story) - A moving and powerful story about music and two women separated by so much, drawn so much into each other’s pains but not drowned by them. Able, through everything, to climb together to a better place, despite the toxic system they’ve been mired in. Flutes, Music, Duels, Queer MC, Dragons. CW- Abuse. [c3 t4]
A stunning anthology and so many just amazing stories. I love the way that the works as a whole have an energy and a lightness to them, a way that they shine without often getting to grim. Now, there are shadows still, and the need to overcome some pretty heavy things, but overall I feel the anthology knows how to have fun while bringing out these beautiful and well built stories celebrating these fantastic and often very hot relationships. Yes to all this!

Clarkesworld #173 (5 short stories, 1 novelette, 1 novella)
  • “The Failed Dianas” by Monique Laban (short story) – A story about expectations and breaking them, about not being responsible for other people’s happiness, and having to stand up for your own. And, well, a story of clones and toxic parents and a cycle of disappointment and joy. Restaurants, Clones, Family, School, Smells/Perfumes. CW- Abuse, Illegal Cloning/Eugenics. [c2 t3]
  • “Terra Rasa” by Anastasia Bookreyeva, translated by Ray Nayler (short story) – A difficult story about disasters as one former rescuer moves toward a supposed salvation, only to maybe change their mind when it came time to make the last step. It’s a wrenching piece, brutal and harsh at times, but with an ending that leaves open a sliver of hope and compassion. Trains, Fires, Corruption, Ships, Dogs. CW- Death, Police/ACAB, Disasters. [c3 t4]
  • “Obelisker Adrift in the Desert” by K.H. Meridian (novelette) – A story of loneliness and time as an aging AI and an augmented soldier meet and start to care about each other, all with destruction and AI on AI violence as a backdrop. A nice mix of action and emotion, and a wonderfully warm ending. AIs, Post-Disaster, Cyborgs, Weaponry. CW- Battle/War, Mind/Body Hacking. [c2 t3]
  • “Mercy and the Mollusc” by M. L. Clark (novella) – A touching story about a man and his partner, a giant mollusk. The piece is part Western, part colonization science fiction, and just a fascinating look at silence and distance and guilt, and the need to share stories to help make the world, whatever world it is, a better place. Great stuff! Mollusks, Partnerships, Terraforming, Transformations. CW- Mind Control, Genocide. [c2 t3]
  • “We’ll Always Have Two Versions of Pteros” by Dominica Phetteplace (short story) - A strange and almost cute series of mishaps surrounding a man pulled out of his timeline and deposited into another, only to desperately want to return, even if it’s to a ship lost in space. It’s a neat story told across universes, and it ties together nicely. Alternate Timelines/Dimensions, Aliens, Relationships, Queer MC. CW- Pregnancy. [c2 t2]
  • “History in Pieces” by Beth Goder (short story) - Something of a puzzle of a story, non-linear but fitting into this wonderful exploration of emotion and experience, memory and loss, hope and cycles. Not exactly a super happy story, but with a haunting beauty to it. Aliens, Archives, Puzzles, Communication, Memories. CW- Death, Infection, Unwanted Observation/Mind Reading. [c3 t4]
A strong issue! I feel in some ways that this is a rather enthusiastic issue for the publication, as it has a lot of stories that something of a fun feel to them. Overall, though, there’s still a definite heaviness to a lot of the works, and a lot of grim elements that prevent some of them from being all They’re still great, and I love a lot of the character work, how so much of it revolves around distant worlds and humans in dangerous situations. Just a great bunch of works!

GigaNotoSaurus February 2021 (1 short story total)
  • “The Patron God of Tawn” by Dustin Steinacker (short story) - A beautiful and complex tale of gods and their fall, and what rises in their place. And the woman at the center of it, the confidant of gods, who has to face the loss she’s suffered and find a way forward through the pain into hope. Gods, Wasps, Religions, Faith. CW- Death/Gore. [c2 t3]
This month’s story is almost quiet, looking at a great loss and the result of that, the way that hope is so fragile that one woman decides it needs a bit of help, and might in that moment help her wish become truth. An amazing read!

Works read this year to date: 141 stories, 23 poems (+32 stories)

Entirely fiction this week. Weird. But part of that is because I decided to push off covering the latest Strange Horizons in favor of covering yet another 2020 anthology, which I mean I’m pulling double duty on those right now because I’m still reading for We’re Here and that entire anthology qualifies for consideration so… Yeah. Not to worry, though, I’m going to get back to poetry next week with HFQ and maybe another new-to-me venue or two. Indeed, there’s a poetry anthology that’s just dropped that I hope to cover as well, so that’s something to look forward to.

Other Media:

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., season 1
So I decided to start rewatching this so that I could see the whole thing (I think I originally stopped watching toward the end of season 3?). And I gotta say, I’m liking it more than I remembered. For me, at least, this first season has been pretty solid, and maybe it helps that at the time I saw it first I was watching it weekly and here it’s a bit easier to keep track of the beats from week to week and see the work being done. Because this season does work best as something of a whole, with this overall picture forming and moving throughout the plot-of-the-week elements. Which, I mean, I think those elements are good, too, and work while building the team. The end of the season, too, is just well built and played out. The destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the revelation of Hydra and Ward, I think the payoff is strong, and rewatching it’s easier to see the hints about it earlier (Ward’s Hydra mentor saying jokingly “You won’t believe what I’ve talked him into” and having that fly right by everyone in his first appearance is wonderful). Anyway, I’m enjoying the rewatch. Yeah.

And that’s it! Until next week, cheers!


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